For quite some time Brian had been wanting the Crown of Thorns around the sound hole of one of his guitars. We tried several different ways, but never could come up with anything that was satisfactory. So Brian got me to build him a guitar for the sole purpose of getting the Crown of Thorns the way he wanted it. The top is Piranha, which is a soft wood from Brazil. I thought I would build Piranha tops until the end of time. But alas! An embargo has been put into place against the cutting and selling of Piranha. So I am all out of it. Piranha has a nice even grain and it is easy to burn an image into it. To make the Crown of Thorns more complete, I did something I had never done before. Where the fretboard crosses the body, I built it out of Piranha. Then I was able to burn into the fretboard and it had the same visibility as the top. The only place we lost a little something was in the cutaway.
Thereís a gentleman in New Jersey who has gotten me to build 4 instruments. And there was nothing normal about any of them. The only acoustic I built for him was a 15 string with a tuning that I cannot describe. It is of the Ambassador body shape, but I had to build a bigger form, because he wanted this guitar bigger than the Ambassador that Iíve been building. And then it has too many pick-ups in it: 7 piezo pick-ups, and if I remember right, 2 different bridge saddle pick-ups.
This 7 string guitar has 36 frets, and I guess the hardest part about it was the bend body. Youíre seeing this one from the face, but if you were to see it from the side, you would see that the butt end of the body is curved backwards. Iím not sure what the benefit in that was Ė just that he wanted it. And he sent a couple of pictures from some other makers to show that there are other folks who are making that bent body also. Also, this instrument is almost headless. It has 3 machine heads in that small headstock, and 4 in the body. There are 2 traditional machine heads and 5 Steinberger tuners.
This is a solid body electric nine string guitar. Itís not so strange as it may seem at first. What it is is a twelve string without the three bass strings being doubled. One drawback to a twelve string is that when the E, A, and D are doubled, their companion string is an octave higher. The bridge saddle really needs to be in a different place for the octave strings. When theyíre played together, generally, the one that is an octave higher sharps out of its correct note. The lady who had me build this guitar likes power chords, and trying to play it on a twelve string just sounded peculiar. I try not to imitate what someone elseís doing, but if I am able, I will build for a person something that is their concept. I guess after thirteen years and a little over 900 instruments, I have to say that this is the most thought out and best concept on a guitar that I have been asked to build. On the headstock is a decal that says ďBreast Cancer AwarenessĒ. On the body directly behind the pink ribbon is a decal that says ďMy Mom is a SurvivorĒ. And the pink ribbon, well I guess it goes without saying. But thatís the official symbol for breast cancer prevention and cure. The body and neck are both flamed maple with a rosewood fret board. Debi only plays a humbucker in the neck position. Also, if youíll notice, she found a supplier somewhere who makes a pink case. Although I havenít seen it, she tells me she has a pink ribbon pin attached to the strap.
The form I use for building Ambassador guitars has not rested for quite a while now. This is probably the most unusual Ambassador Iíve built. Hereís a man who has created a lifetime memory along with getting me to bring a guitar into the world. The sound holes in the middle is the Christian symbol of the heart and crown. On either side, the sound holes are the palm prints of his sons. And then thereís a sound hole in the upper bout of the sides for more projection toward the player. And if that weren't enough creativity on one guitar, I need to point out that your eyes are not deceiving you. This is a nine-string guitar with the A, D, & G doubled. Ryan is a missionary in West Virginia and Iím always thankful to see my instruments being used for Jesus.
Here's the very reason I got into building instruments. Twelve years and a little over 800 instruments ago, I started building because I am left handed with odd sized hands that have been damaged too much over the years. This is Andrew and he is 5' 19 1/2". A full string length guitar is right at 25 1/2", which for a guy his height, is just too short. So we went with a 27" string length and a jumbo body to make for a comfortable fit.
The reason I got into building guitars was because I needed one of an odd size, just to fit me well. Iíve built for several folks who didnít know something just their size was even a possible thing. Now, in the humbleness of my shop, I canít do everything, but I will do what I am confident that I can do well. Hereís one example. I think this is probably the only instrument of its kind on the planet. Itís an acoustic 6-string bass, built with a jumbo body shape, and a 34Ē string length with a full 24 frets. It would take a very big person to play it. But then I often talk with folks who say everything is just too doggone small for them. Catch up with me with your particular needs and weíll see if Iím able to meet that need.
Nearly everything I do is one of a kind. That's certainly true of this guitar. I built it for a Christian singer who is a favorite of mine. Her name is Carolyn Arends. While the distinction is subtle, the soundholes are her initials. It has a 23 5/8 string length. While there's no rule, 25 5/8 is kind of standard, but I make longer and shorter string lengths, depending on what fits people best. The top is redwood, and the fretboard is rockhard maple.
Here's where I use up all of my adjectives. This was the biggest, hardest, scariest, most thought provoking, and the most fun of anything I've built. This doubleneck was built for a gentleman in Georgia and it's a product of his mind and mine. He knew what he wanted, and it's not something either of us has ever seen anywhere. It's a six string acoustic bass and mandolin. The two of us worked out details that would make it an instrument that could actually be played. It has two pickups, a bridge saddle pickup that was custom made by Fishman, and a Fishman mandolin pickup. There are two end jacks because you'd need to plug a bass to a different amp than the one needed for a mandolin. There's a two way selector switch to activate one pickup or the other. Also, we have tone and volume control. Since there's no instrument like this on the planet, it was easy to believe we couldn't find a case for it. It sure does look like we're about to have pallbearer practice, but this is the best I could do in light of the fact I'm an amateur case builder.
To this point, there are two instruments I've built that have made me have to work and pray with equal enthusiasm: the doubleneck I built for the gentleman in Douglasville, Georgia, and this sixteen string guitar I built for a gentleman who works at the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts in New York City. I probably overbuilt this guitar, but I felt like Captain Kirk. I felt like I was going where I had never gone before. I have no idea how much tension is on a sixteen string guitar. So, I borrowed a couple of ideas. I attached a tailpiece to the bridge like I've seen Gibson do. I put a rod all the way through the body that attaches to the head and tail block the way I saw Fender do. This neck is 3 1/2" wide at the nut and has a 4 1/4" string spacing at the bridge. A typical guitar takes about 43" of fretwire. This one took 67". The body is jumbo. The top is western red cedar with a black walnut back, sides, and neck. I used rosewood for the bridge and fretboard.
This is my personal guitar. I'm a very unlikely player, but I want to be able to play. My fingers are very short and fat, with permanent injuries to my fretting hand. So it took a bit of imagination to work out a guitar that would work for me. I saw a picture of Keith Richards' five string Fender Telecaster. It lacked the bass E. I could see that I could get ahold of five strings. Still having short fingers, though, the neck needed to be narrower, so I narrowed the neck a bit, spread the strings out a bit, and made a spacing that allows me to make clear notes. I'm left handed, and I don't charge more to make a left handed guitar. I don't really like a pickguard, but need to protect the finish, so I have a clear pickguard on mine. The top is piranah, bridge and fretboard are a local wood called bodark. The sides and back are flamed maple.
Maybe your family is like mine, and when you're sitting around the supper table you make very light chitchat. We talk about light hearted things like the Portuguese language. Is the dominate influence Greek or Latin? There's this nagging question that we keep asking, but an answer has never been presented - "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" We saw the movie, but we'd still like to know why can't white men jump. And then there's that ever present question - "If a Celtic punk band had a mandolin, what would it look like?" I'm thankful to finally have an answer, and this is it. A gentleman in Ontario, Canada, designed and custom ordered this instrument.
This guitar was built for a good follower of Jesus who lives in Martinez, Georgia. It's a jumbo body shape but the asymetrical cutaway is of his design. Also all of the artwork on the face was his idea. The sound hole with its shape represents the empty tomb and the crown of thorns. Inlayed around the sound hole is the cross on which Christ died and the circle is the symbol of eternity. I'm not sure if there's any religious significance to it, but the shape of the headstock was also his design. This guitar was fitted with a Fishman bridge saddle pickup and he's playing it with a pre-amp that is not on board.
This is one of my instruments that packed its bags and headed west to Hayward, California to be exact. The gentleman who owns it also designed it. Remember I'm never bored in what I do, but sometimes I just have more fun than I do at other times. And since this was a first for me, it was especially fun. It's a mandolin up top and an octave mandolin down bottom. The body is of the Seraph design and it is the same size body that I use for my guitars. It's fitted with two single coil pickups, tone, volume, and a selector switch.
Hot-diggity-dog! I finally have one of my instruments in Spain. This is a solid body electric eight string octave mandolin with an F-hole that's cut all the way through the body. It was designed by the person who had me build it for him.
Here are a couple of guys that are almost twins Ė sorta. The gentleman who got me to build these two instruments kinda invented the concept. These are acoustic and electric versions of the same instrument. In the mandolin family, there is a mandolin and an octave mandolin. These are both five string double octave mandolins. They are tuned the same way as a mandolin except that they are at least two octaves lower.
This instrument is at least three or four steps off the beaten path. The person who had me build it calls it a guitar. According to the tuning he gave me, itís a Greek bouzouki plus something more. Iím really not sure what the ďmoreĒ part might be. It has ten strings instead of eight, as Greek bouzoukis have. The top on this instrument is a real happening thing. The sound holes are two knot holes. Out of a little over 400 instruments Iíve built to date, this is only the third instrument that has knot holes for sound holes. Also, this instrument has a 27Ē string length. The body shape is the Ambassador. With the number of strings, combined with the length and size of the strings, this instrument couldnít help but sound good. Itís under more tension than I care to think about.
A gentleman saw the mandolin I built that had the cross and the vines for the sound holes. He wasnít so much interested in the cross, but he liked the vines and an oval sound shape. Also, he wanted a more traditional body shape than the big fat octave mandolins I build. This is one of the most excellent wood combinations I ever find Ė black walnut sides, back, and neck, and western red cedar top.
There's not too much unusual about this acoustic guitar. Folks often want something inlayed in their top. The top upper bout is usually the safest place in which I can inlay. If it's something I'm able to do and have no objections to doing, then something inlayed in the top is always a possibility.
We have a Christian radio station here in town - 100.9 FM The Hill, call letters KHLL. Years ago, when that station first came on the air, it was not local. It was being satellited in from Colorado Springs. There was a whole crew of disc jockies there and they were all great. During drive time in the morning, we had Dave Collins with the Studio A Cafe. There was Faron Dice. The afternoon disc jockey was Ellie Singer. She was a sweetheart. When you heard her voice, you wanted to just invite her to Sunday dinner. And there was one guy who affectionately called himself - "The Fill-In Guy". He was Stephan Fenton. Stephan took up the slack for everybody there. If somebody was sick, stuck in traffic, or in any way predisposed, he would come on and announce - "This is Stephan Fenton - the fill-in guy." The radio station has been local for years now, but I've never forgotten those folks. This picture is of my good friend and fill-in guy, Stephan Fenton. He and his family have since left Colorado and are living in another state. Stephan used to be right handed. There are a couple of big fears among those of us who work with wood. In no certain order, here's what they are - we're always afraid that our shop will burn down, we always try to be careful and are afraid of cutting our fingers off, and we despise the thought of termites getting into our stock of wood. Stephan was in a carpentry accident and lost the thumb, index finger, and middle finger on his left hand. Since he didn't have enough fingers left to fret with, he taught himself to play left handed and got me to build him a couple of different instruments. This is him with a 34" string length fretless 5-string bass. It's always a bit of fun and a point of pride for me to see my instruments being put to use.
Don't you get the biggest laugh out of folks who go into some hamburger place and stand and stare at the menu? The menu ain't changed in 30 years and everybody has it memorized. So then finally, when they speak up, they tell the infant behind the counter that they want a burger. (Ooooh, aren't you original?!) And what will they have to go with that burger? Well, how about a coke? (Oh my gosh! You're such a free thinker!) And maybe we'll throw in an apple pie. (Hot diggity dog, we're gonna give you some kind of award for your creative mind!) Sometimes that's the way it goes with instruments. Like, take me for example. I play a guitar. Yeah, me and everybody else on the planet. Every now and then somebody somes along and they do something that makes me say, "Oooh!" Here's Charlie with two different instruments he go me to build - an Irish bouzouki with the Ambassador body and a solid body electric 12-string guitar. Well now it's a sure bet he's not going to get lost in a crowd. And it's clear to this country boy that he's having a bit of fun.
I guess everybody has at least one song in them that needs to be written and sung. I know I have written at least two or three myself. The man in this picture is a gentleman indeed, and heís from the great state of Texas. A while back, he got me to build him a solid body electric chromatic guitar-held six string dulcimer. Right after he received the instrument, he sent me five of his cds. And I think every one of them was full of songs written entirely by him. Iíve listened to them and Iíve been amazed at the number of tunes that can come from the soul of one person. And heís bilingual Ė speaking English and Spanish. And on top of that, I think he plays nearly every instrument known to man. He just recently sent me his newest release called Drone Axe. It has that name because thatís the name heís given to the electric dulcimer he got me to build him. So I guess it would be a good thing at this point to officially name that model of electric dulcimer I made Ė ďI dub thee the drone axe.Ē We had intentions of giving some sound clips to his music, because he's just that amazing. But at this point, we just haven't figured out how to do that. So, if you want more than just reading about it, you may have to catch up with Mr. Jaimez.
I got this picture a few days ago from a gentleman I built for. He's the one on the right. Right now, he's in Ireland and that's where this picture came from. He tells me once he's done touring through Ireland, he'll be heading to Scotland. I love seeing one of my instruments get to tour the world. It's a sure bet I won't be doing that. When this gentleman got me to build for him, he told me he wanted an octave mandolin that looked just like his guitar. They are both shown in this picture. We had to do a bit of talking and I needed to make sure that whoever built the guitar did not also build octave mandolins. Under my section "My Idea About Business", I talk about a lot of things I can do, can't do, and won't do. Among all those things, one thing I won't do is make forgeries of someone elses instrument. We found that the luthier only makes guitars, so then I was obliged to build for him. Alright, it's not exactly like his guitar, but gosh dog it's real close to it. And I'm thankful to know that the owner says he has trouble putting it down. He's just having that much fun.